Cranky about the State of the Country

Cicero, letters to Atticus 375 (11 May 44)

“I have no doubt that our state is looking at war. This affair has been managed with a man’s bravery and a child’s planning. Can’t everyone see that a king was removed but his heir was left on the throne?

What is more ridiculous? To fear this but not to consider that a risk at all! There is still in this moment much which is crooked. That the house of Pontius near Naples is held by the mother of that tyrannicide! Oh!

I should read the “Cato the Elder” I made for you more often. Old age is making me rather cranky. I am annoyed by everything. But, certainly, I have lived. Let the young men see to these things. You will care for my affairs as you do.”

Mihi autem non est dubium quin res spectet ad castra. acta enim illa res est animo virili, consilio puerili. quis enim hoc non vidit, <regem sublatum>,2 regni heredem relictum? quid autem absurdius? ‘hoc metuere, alterum in metu non ponere!’ quin etiam hoc ipso tempore multa ὑποσóλοικα. Ponti Neapolitanum a matre tyrannoctoni possideri! legendus mihi saepius est ‘Cato maior’ ad te missus. amariorem enim me senectus facit. stomachor omnia. sed mihi quidem βεβíωται; viderint iuvenes. tu mea curabis, ut curas.

cranky cicero

Pliny’s Guidelines for A Retirement Well-Spent

Pliny, Letters 3.1 to Calvisius Rufus

“I am incapable of recalling a time I spent as pleasantly as I just did when I went to see Spurinna—and, in fact, I cannot imagine anyone I would rather imitate more in my old age, should I be allowed to grow old. For no way of living is better designed than his. A well-planned life pleases me as much as the circuit of the stars. This is especially true when it comes to the old—for while a limited amount of chaos and excitement is not inappropriate for the young, a completely calm and ordered life is better for the elderly. Their public service is over and any aims for advancement is perverse at this point.

Spurinna insistently follows this rule and even in small things—minor if they did not happen daily—he follows a plan as if an orbiting body. He lies abed a bit every morning but then asks for his shoes in the second hour and takes a three-mile walk to exercise his mind no less than his body. If his friends are present, they have the most earnest conversations. If they are not there, he has a book read—something he also does at times when his friends are there if it will not annoy them too much. Then, once he sits down, the book is read again or, even better, the conversation continues. Then he climbs into his carriage and takes his wife—a model of her gender—or some friend—recently, me!—along with him.

How fine it is, how sweet a secret! How much of the past one finds there—what deeds and what heroes you hear of! What principles you absorb! He bows to his own modesty, however, and does not seem to give orders. After he has been driven seven miles or so, he walks another mile, and then returns to sit again or he goes back to his writing. For then he writes the most learned lyric lines in both Latin and Greek—they are amazingly sweet and impressive as well for their charm, humor, and grace which the taste of the one who writes them only increases.”

Nescio an ullum iucundius tempus exegerim, quam quo nuper apud Spurinnam fui, adeo quidem ut neminem magis in senectute, si modo senescere datum est, aemulari velim; nihil est enim illo vitae genere distinctius. Me autem ut certus siderum cursus ita vita hominum disposita delectat. Senum praesertim: nam iuvenes confusa adhuc quaedam et quasi turbata non indecent, senibus placida omnia et ordinata conveniunt, quibus industria sera turpis ambitio est.

Hanc regulam Spurinna constantissime servat; quin etiam parva haec—parva si non cotidie fiant—ordine quodam et velut orbe circumagit. Mane lectulo continetur, hora secunda calceos poscit, ambulat milia passuum tria nec minus animum quam corpus exercet. Si adsunt amici, honestissimi sermones explicantur; si non, liber legitur, interdum etiam praesentibus amicis, si tamen illi non gravantur. Deinde considit, et liber rursus aut sermo libro potior; mox vehiculum ascendit, adsumit uxorem singularis exempli vel aliquem amicorum, ut me  proxime. Quam pulchrum illud, quam dulce secretum! quantum ibi antiquitatis! quae facta, quos viros audias! quibus praeceptis imbuare! quamvis ille hoc temperamentum modestiae suae indixerit, ne  praecipere videatur. Peractis septem milibus passuum iterum ambulat mille, iterum residit vel se cubiculo ac stilo reddit. Scribit enim et quidem utraque lingua lyrica doctissima; mira illis dulcedo. mira suavitas, mira hilaritas, cuius gratiam cumulat sanctitas scribentis.

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A Routine for Managing Old Age from Cicero

Cicero, De Senectute 35-36

“Laelius and Scipio, we must resist old age and counteract its weaknesses with care. We must fight against it as we would a disease. A heath regimen must be established. We need moderate exercise and only as much food and drink as is needed to replenish our abilities but not to overcome them. And we should not attend to the body alone: but much greater service is owed to the mind and soul.

For these parts flicker out from old age just as a lamps unfilled with oil waver and dim. The body, moreover, grows worn out from excessive exercise, but our minds are unburdened by working out. For, the men Caecilius calls “the comic old fools” are those he means to mark out as credulous, forgetful, and discombobulated. These are not the faults of old age altogether, but of a lazy, careless, and sleepy old age. Just as petulance and lust are more often traits of young men than old ones, yet are not present in all young men but only the corruptible ones, so too is that aged foolishness which people usually call senility a mark of those who have weak minds, not of all old men.”

Resistendum, Laeli et Scipio, senectuti est eiusque vitia diligentia compensanda sunt, pugnandum tamquam contra morbum sic contra senectutem, habenda  ratio valetudinis, utendum exercitationibus modicis, tantum cibi et potionis adhibendum, ut reficiantur vires, non opprimantur. Nec vero corpori solum subveniendum est, sed menti atque animo multo magis. Nam haec quoque, nisi tamquam lumini oleum instilles, exstinguuntur senectute. Et corpora quidem exercitationum defetigatione ingravescunt, animi autem exercitando levantur. Nam quos ait Caecilius “comicos stultos senes,” hos significat credulos obliviosos dissolutos, quae vitia sunt non senectutis, sed inertis ignavae somniculosae senectutis. Ut petulantia, ut libido magis est adulescentium quam senum, nec tamen omnium adulescentium, sed non proborum, sic ista senilis stultitia, quae deliratio appellari solet, senum levium est, non omnium.

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Dinner Conversation Prompts from Plutarch: Old Men and Strong Wine

If you experience any lulls in conversation during your holiday meals and gatherings, here’s another topic ready-to-hand.

Plutarch, “Table-Talk”, Moralia 624: Why Do Old Men Prefer Strong Wine?

“Next was examined the issue of old men, in particular why they enjoy drinking stronger wine. Some were supposing that their core, which is rather cold and difficult to warm, appearsto accord well with a stronger proof. This was not at all sufficient, in the light of cause nor in that they said anything true. For, in respect to the rest of the senses, the same thing happens: old men are hard to move, hard to change in regards to experiences of this sort, unless they fall on him with full strength and no subtlety. The reason for this is the decline of his constitution. Because it is weakened and dulled, it prefers to be struck hard.

Therefore stronger flavors are more to the taste of old men. Their sense of smell undergoes similar alterations regarding odors—for it is moved to pleasure by those that are really pure and pressing. Their sense of touch is harmed by scars and while they suffer wounds from time to time, they don’t really feel them. Similar too is their sense of hearing—musicians as they grow old play more sharply and loudly as if trying to wake up their senses with the clash  of sound. The treatment that gives steel an edge provides the body’s perception with breath. When this begins to surrender and is weak, the senses are left dull and muddy and needing some shaking—this is what need strong wine fills.”

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Διὰ τί μᾶλλον ἀκράτῳ χαίρουσιν οἱ γέροντες

Ἐζητεῖτο περὶ τῶν γερόντων, διὰ τί μᾶλλον ἀκρατοτέρῳ τῷ ποτῷ χαίρουσιν. οἱ μὲν οὖν κατεψυγμένην τὴν ἕξιν αὐτῶν καὶ δυσεκθέρμαντον οὖσαν οἰόμενοι διὰ τοῦτο τῇ σφοδρότητι τῆς κράσεως ἐναρμόττειν ἐφαίνοντο κοινόν τι καὶ πρόχειρον οὐχ ἱκανὸν δὲ πρὸς τὴν αἰτίαν οὐδ᾿ ἀληθὲς λέγοντες· καὶ γὰρ ἐπὶ τῶν ἄλλων αἰσθήσεων τὸ αὐτὸ συμβέβηκεν· δυσκίνητοι γάρ εἰσι καὶ δυσμετάβλητοι πρὸς τὰς ἀντιλήψεις τῶν ποιοτήτων, ἂν μὴ κατάκοροι καὶ σφοδραὶ προσπέσωσιν. αἰτία δ᾿ ἡ τῆς ἕξεως ἄνεσις· ἐκλυομένη γὰρ καὶ ἀτονοῦσα πλήττεσθαι φιλεῖ. διὸ τῇ τε γεύσει μάλιστα τοὺς δηκτικοὺς προσίενται χυμούς, ἥ τ᾿ ὄσφρησις αὐτῶν ὅμοια πέπονθε πρὸς τὰς ὀσμάς, κινεῖται γὰρ ὑπὸ τῶν ἀκράτων καὶ σφοδρῶν ἥδιον· ἡ δ᾿ ἁφὴ πρὸς τὰ ἕλκη δυσπαθής, τραύματα γὰρ ἐνίοτε λαμβάνοντες οὐ μάλα πονοῦσιν· ὁμοιότατον δὲ γίγνεται τὸ τῆς ἀκοῆς, οἱ γὰρ μουσικοὶ γηρῶντες ὀξύτερον ἁρμόζονται καὶ σκληρότερον οἷον ὑπὸ πληγῆς τῆς συντόνου φωνῆς ἐγείροντες τὸ αἰσθητήριον. ὅ τι γὰρ σιδήρῳ πρὸς ἀκμὴν στόμωμα, τοῦτο σώματι πνεῦμα παρέχει πρὸς αἴσθησιν· ἐνδόντος δὲ τούτου καὶ χαλάσαντος, ἀργὸν ἀπολείπεται καὶ γεῶδες τὸ αἰσθητήριον καὶ σφοδροῦ τοῦ νύττοντος, οἷον ὁ ἄκρατός ἐστι δεόμενον.

If I were in this conversation I would add: the older man also needs to urinate more frequently. A stronger drink means less liquid consumed for the desired result. And, therefore, fewer trips to the bathroom.

Leaving Life From an Inn, Not a Home

Cicero De Senectute, 84

“Even if some god should permit that I would return to the time of my birth from this age, I would sternly refuse–for, truly, I do not wish to restart as if to retrace a race run from the finish line to the starting post.

What attraction does life have? Or, rather, what labor does it lack? Let it have clear charm–even still, it must have either satiety or a conclusion. It is not my purpose to deplore life as many–even learned men–have often done. And I do not regret that I have lived, because I lived in a such a way that I do not believe I was pointlessly born.  And I am leaving life as if from an inn, not a home. For nature has given us a way-station for a brief delay, not to permanently reside.”

Et si quis deus mihi largiatur ut ex hac aetate repuerascam et in cunis vagiam, valde recusem, nec vero velim quasi decurso spatio ad carceres a calce revocari. Quid habet enim vita commodi? Quid non potius laboris? Sed habeat sane; habet certe tamen aut satietatem aut modum. Non libet enim mihi deplorare vitam, quod multi et ei docti saepe fecerunt, neque me vixisse paenitet, quoniam ita vixi, ut non frustra me natum existimem, et ex vita ita discedo tamquam ex hospitio, non tamquam e domo; commorandi enim natura divorsorium nobis, non habitandi dedit.

This last bit made me think of Lucretius:

De Rerum Natura, 3.970-971

“Thus one thing never ceases to arise from another,
and life is given to no one for ownership, but to all for rent.”

sic aliud ex alio numquam desistet oriri
vitaque mancipio nulli datur, omnibus usu

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Nothing More than an Epilogue?

From (Ps.) Longinus On the Sublime, 9.11-13

“Nevertheless, all through the Odyssey, which must be examined for many reasons, Homer reveals that as great inspiration fades away, storytelling becomes the dominant attribute of old age. For it is clear in many ways that this epic was composed second. Throughout the Odyssey we find episodes modeled on scenes from the Iliad, and, by Zeus, he apportions his heroes grief and misery as if these tales were long already known. The Odyssey is nothing other than an epilogue to the Iliad:

There lies fierce Ajax; here lies Achilles
There likes Patroklos, an advisor equal to the gods,
There lies my own dear son. (Od. 3.109-111)

The cause of this fact, I imagine, is that when the Iliad was being written at the peak of his strength, Homer imbued the whole work with dramatic power and action; when he was composing the Odyssey, however, he made it more of a narrative, as appropriate for old age. For this reason, you can compare the Odyssey’s Homer to a setting sun: the magnitude remains without its power. Since, in it, he no longer preserves the same power of the Iliad, that overwhelming consistency which never ebbs, nor the same rush of changing experiences, the variety and reality of it, packed full with things from true experience.

It is as if the Ocean were to withdraw into itself, quietly watching its own measure. What remains for us is the retreating tide of Homer’s genius, his wandering in storytelling and unbelievable things. When I claim this, I am not forgetting the storms in the Odyssey and the events placed near the Kyklopes and elsewhere—I am indicating old age, but it is still Homer’s old age. And, yet, the mythical overpowers in every one of these scenes.”

δείκνυσι δ’ ὅμως διὰ τῆς ᾿Οδυσσείας (καὶ γὰρ ταῦτα πολλῶν ἕνεκα προσεπιθεωρητέον), ὅτι μεγάλης φύσεως ὑποφερομένης ἤδη ἴδιόν ἐστιν ἐν γήρᾳ τὸ φιλόμυθον. δῆλος γὰρ ἐκ πολλῶν τε ἄλλων συντεθεικὼς ταύτην δευτέραν τὴν ὑπόθεσιν, ἀτὰρ δὴ κἀκ τοῦ λείψανα τῶν ᾿Ιλιακῶν παθημάτων διὰ τῆς ᾿Οδυσσείας

ὡς ἐπεισόδιά τινα [τοῦ Τρωικοῦ πολέμου] προσεπεισφέρειν, καὶ νὴ Δί’ ἐκ τοῦ τὰς ὀλοφύρσεις καὶ τοὺς οἴκτους ὡς πάλαι που προεγνωσμένοις τοῖς ἥρωσιν ἐνταῦθα προσαποδιδόναι. οὐ γὰρ ἀλλ’ ἢ τῆς ᾿Ιλιάδος ἐπίλογός ἐστιν ἡ ᾿Οδύσσεια·

ἔνθα μὲν Αἴας κεῖται ἀρήιος, ἔνθα δ’ ᾿Αχιλλεύς,
ἔνθα δὲ Πάτροκλος, θεόφιν μήστωρ ἀτάλαντος·
ἔνθα δ’ ἐμὸς φίλος υἱός.

ἀπὸ δὲ τῆς αὐτῆς αἰτίας, οἶμαι, τῆς μὲν ᾿Ιλιάδος γραφομένης ἐν ἀκμῇ πνεύματος ὅλον τὸ σωμάτιον δραματικὸν ὑπεστήσατο καὶ ἐναγώνιον, τῆς δὲ ᾿Οδυσσείας τὸ πλέον διηγηματικόν, ὅπερ ἴδιον γήρως. ὅθεν ἐν τῇ ᾿Οδυσσείᾳ παρεικάσαι τις ἂν καταδυομένῳ τὸν ῞Ομηρον ἡλίῳ, οὗ δίχα τῆς σφοδρότητος παραμένει τὸ μέγεθος. οὐ γὰρ ἔτι τοῖς ᾿Ιλιακοῖς ἐκείνοις ποιήμασιν ἴσον ἐνταῦθα σῴζει τὸν τόνον, οὐδ’ ἐξωμαλισμένα τὰ ὕψη καὶ ἱζήματα μηδαμοῦ λαμβάνοντα, οὐδὲ τὴν πρόχυσιν ὁμοίαν τῶν ἐπαλλήλων παθῶν, οὐδὲ τὸ ἀγχίστροφον καὶ πολιτικὸν καὶ ταῖς ἐκ τῆς

ἀληθείας φαντασίαις καταπεπυκνωμένον· ἀλλ’ οἷον ὑποχωροῦντος εἰς ἑαυτὸν᾿Ωκεανοῦ καὶ περὶ τὰ ἴδια μέτρα †ἐρημουμένου τὸ λοιπὸν φαίνονται τοῦ μεγέθους ἀμπώτιδες κἀν τοῖς μυθώδεσι καὶ ἀπίστοις πλάνος. λέγων δὲ ταῦτ’ οὐκ ἐπιλέλησμαι τῶν ἐν τῇ ᾿Οδυσσείᾳ χειμώνων καὶ τῶν περὶ τὸν Κύκλωπα καί τινων ἄλλων, ἀλλὰ γῆρας διηγοῦμαι, γῆρας δ’ ὅμως ῾Ομήρου· πλὴν ἐν ἅπασι τούτοις ἑξῆς τοῦ πρακτικοῦ κρατεῖ τὸ μυθικόν.

While Longinus sees many moments in the Odyssey as modeled after the Iliad, others have suggested that the Odyssey does not refer to the main events in our Iliad. [This is called Monro’s Law.] Instead, it refers generally to events which occur outside the Iliad in the Trojan War in general. Rather than indicating that the Iliad and the Odyssey did not know of one another, many interpreters have instead suggested that such nonconvergence is pointed and indicative of deep mutual knowledge.

Leaving Life As if From an Inn, Not a Home

Cicero De Senectute, 84

“Even if some god should permit that I would return to the time of my birth from this age, I would sternly refuse–for, truly, I do not wish to restart as if to retrace a race run from the finish line to the starting post.

What attraction does life have? Or, rather, what labor does it lack? Let it have clear charm–even still, it must have either satiety or a conclusion. It is not my purpose to deplore life as many–even learned men–have often done. And I do not regret that I have lived, because I lived in a such a way that I do not believe I was pointlessly born.  And I am leaving life as if from an inn, not a home. For nature has given us a way-station for a brief delay, not to permanently reside.”

Et si quis deus mihi largiatur ut ex hac aetate repuerascam et in cunis vagiam, valde recusem, nec vero velim quasi decurso spatio ad carceres a calce revocari. Quid habet enim vita commodi? Quid non potius laboris? Sed habeat sane; habet certe tamen aut satietatem aut modum. Non libet enim mihi deplorare vitam, quod multi et ei docti saepe fecerunt, neque me vixisse paenitet, quoniam ita vixi, ut non frustra me natum existimem, et ex vita ita discedo tamquam ex hospitio, non tamquam e domo; commorandi enim natura divorsorium nobis, non habitandi dedit.

This last bit made me think of Lucretius:

De Rerum Natura, 3.970-971

“Thus one thing never ceases to arise from another,
and life is given to no one for ownership, but to all for rent.”

sic aliud ex alio numquam desistet oriri
vitaque mancipio nulli datur, omnibus usu

Image result for medieval manuscript de senectute